The Most Offending Soul Alive [ePub]

by Judith M. Heimann

An English eccentric and adventurer, Tom Harrisson (1911-1976) sought knowledge and renown in a dizzying number of fields, while breaking most of the rules of "civilized" society. This hugely enjoyable story of his extravagant, controversial life offers a sympathetic and insightful look at a charismatic figure who offended as many people as he impressed at the twilight of colonialism on the fringes of the British empire.By age twenty-one, Harrisson had carried out pioneering ornithological research and explored the flora and fauna of Northern Borneo. While still in his twenties, he wrote a best-selling book based on his experiences living among cannibals in the South Pacific. The next decade found Harrisson applying the techniques of bird-watching to his fellow Britons in what became Mass-Observation, a precursor to modern market research. Later, he won the DSO for parachuting into Borneo behind enemy lines and organizing an army of blow-piping headhunters who eventually killed more than a thousand Japanese soldiers.

After the war Harrisson settled in Borneo, where, as curator of the Sarawak Museum, he transformed it into a model and inspiration for the region; he led efforts to save the orangutan, the green sea turtle, and other endangered species; he discovered the oldest modern human skull known at the time; he published widely in the scientific and popular press, and appeared frequently on the BBC and British television.

A man with tremendous breadth of interest and vision, Harrisson continually sought ways to connect knowledge across disciplines, alienating in the process more narrowly focused alien academics who resented his encroachments — and his lack of a universitydegree. Yet a number of his ideas, particularly in anthropology and archaeology, seem modern today.

The Most Offending Soul Alive is the rousing and compelling story of a man who has been called one of the most remarkable men of his generation. It portrays an individual of irresistible energy, magnetism, and imagination, but also shows Harrisson to be an emotionally troubled man, who spent much of his life fighting to gain respect from the academic world, despite the fact that he despised many of its values. A hard-drinking, hard driving egotist, full of ambition, curiosity, and pent-up rage, he never had — during his long career and afterwards — the recognition he sought and deserved for his many achievements.



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